how to search for a new job – without your current employer finding out

Job searching when you’re employed comes with plenty of advantages: Employers often prefer employed candidates, you don’t have to explain why you’re not currently working, and you have the option of staying at your current job if your search doesn’t work out. But job searching when you’re employed also means that you usually need to keep your search hidden from your current employer, since many managers bristle when they find that an employee is trying to move on. (Some managers are supportive or at least tolerant, but they’re in the minority.) Too often, having your job search outed to your manager can lead to uncomfortable conversations, being pushed off of desirable projects, or even being pushed out of your job earlier than you wanted to leave.

So how can you keep your job search off your manager’s radar? Here are eight guidelines for keeping your search on the down low.

1. Be careful about what you put on LinkedIn. If you change your LinkedIn profile to indicate that you’re actively searching, not only might your employer stumble across it, but if your activity broadcasts are turned on, your manager might even get an email about it! You can prevent that from happening by turning off your activity broadcasts in your privacy settings.

A smart strategy for LinkedIn is to keep your profile up-to-date all the time, so that it’s not a sudden change when you start searching. Otherwise, your manager may wonder why you’ve suddenly done major work on it. And speaking of social media …

2. Don’t tweet, blog or post on Facebook about your search. It might sound obvious, but job seekers often forget that they’ve friended their co-workers on Facebook, or that their tweets are public. If you must post about your job search, make sure you have iron-clad privacy settings and that you know exactly who can see your posts – and even then, it’s a risk.

3. Schedule interviews first thing in the morning or as late in the day as possible. Your manager will likely notice if you’re suddenly out of the office for multiple midday appointments. While some of that is uncontrollable, to the extent that you can, try to schedule interviews for the least disruptive times. Many employers are willing to accommodate employed job candidates by offering interview times at the very start or end of the day.

4. Don’t use your company computer, email or other resources to job search. You might think it’s fine to browse job postings on your work computer during lunch, but many employers monitor Internet use and will be able to figure out you’re job searching by seeing the sites you browse. Similarly, don’t print out your résumé on your company printer, even after hours; the risk is too high that someone will see it there.

5. Avoid conducting phone interviews from work. If you have the option of working from home on occasion, the day of a phone interview is a good time to do it. Otherwise, take the call in your car, from a coffee shop or any other space that isn’t right in the middle of your co-workers.

6. Don’t post your résumé on online job boards. The risk is too high that someone from your current employer will see it there – after all, your company might search those boards for job candidates, too. This won’t hobble your search too much, because posting your résumé and passively waiting to be contacted isn’t an especially effective strategy anyway.

7. Watch how you dress. In some offices, showing up in a suit for the first time in months is a surefire trigger for questions about whether you have an interview. If you have the luxury of planning in advance, one way around this is to dress up periodically all the time, so that people are used to seeing you in occasional suits and won’t think anything of it. Otherwise, you might need to say it’s laundry day or bring a change of clothes with you.

8. Make sure the employers you’re interviewing with know to keep your search discreet. You don’t need to request discretion with every application – it will look little odd to do that – but in small fields or in cases where a hiring manager knows your current manager, it’s reasonable to explain that your search isn’t public and ask that it be kept confidential.

{ 36 comments… read them below }

  1. Leslie

    I think the “dress up occasionally so it won’t look weird if you show up to work in a suit one day” is a really good tip for a lot of office jobs. For places where “business casual” is the dress code, if you can take it one notch up most days (wearing dress pants/skirt instead of khakis/colored jeans, wearing a button-up shirt instead of a polo for guys, or a blouse/dressier top instead of a plain knit for women, or just adding a blazer/suit jacket or dressier shoe to your outfit for either gender), then it’s even less noticeable if you dress up even more one day.

    1. CPE

      Start dressing up three months before your job search so that people get used to it and it becomes a new normal :-)

    2. OhNo

      Heck, even if you’re not job searching, dressing up occasionally can be a good plan. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets comments whenever they dress up a bit. Wearing a suit or blazer occasionally is a great way to turn dressing up one day from “unusual occurrence” to “just something Jane does sometimes”.

      1. jag

        Yeah. And frankly, wearing your nice clothes more often can help you feel really comfortable in them. Which will show.

      2. Kyrielle

        Yep. Also, I had a coworker who showed up in a suit occasionally, but wearing a wildly inappropriate (for interviews; fine for our office) tie, such as flying toilets.

        I have no idea if he was hiding his interviews behind those days before he left, but swapping out a tie would have been easy.

    3. Artemesia

      Also wearing dressier pants with a sweater that can be switched out with a suit jacket when on the way to the interview works or wearing a suit skirt with a casual funky sweater which again can be lost for the jacket when you are out the door. And flats or casual shoes can be switched out on the way to the interview for pumps.

    4. AnonyMouse

      I agree, and I think even if you’re not job searching there are some potential benefits to stepping up your outfit game slightly. I work in a small and casual office, but dress a little nicer (blazers, skirts etc) on days when, say, we have outside people coming in for a meeting – there’s no official requirement to do that but it happens pretty frequently and I think it projects a more professional image.

  2. Pharma Scientist

    Of course it’s different in every field, but interviews in my field tend to be a full day, or half-day at the shortest. I have occasionally taken a “personal day” off, but it really is nerve-wracking and doesn’t feel good trying to avoid questions like “Is everything okay?”

    A few months ago, I was lucky enough to arrange a couple of interviews on a Friday or Monday of a weekend I was going out of town, and asking for a regular vacation day off. Therefore, when someone asked how the weekend was, I could answer honestly and describe the vacation.

    1. GrumpyBoss

      My last job search, I was leaving a very over-share-y type of environment where explaining to everyone why you needed a personal day was the norm. So I understand what you mean by nerve wracking. I had to lie through my teeth. And I was interviewing in a different state, so I was a paranoid mess while in the airport!

      I requested any onsite interviews take place on a Monday or a Friday and that helped. But depending on your demand/field, this may not always be accommodated.

    2. Koko

      Partly out of a deep need for privacy and partly to preclude this, I’m always vague about my time off. I say that I have an “appointment” and nothing further. I’ve said that when I have to go get a haircut in the middle of the day because my stylist is booked outside of work hours for the next month and I have an event next week. I’ve said it for medical and dental appointments. I’ve said it when I need to pick up or drop off my car at the repair shop.

      If you rarely/never go into details about your time off, people just get used to it and don’t find it suspicious.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I hope not, since job searching is just a small piece of what we talk about here! If that ever happens to anyone, you can point out that there’s a bunch of info here about managing, working well with coworkers, strengthening your work habits, etc.

      1. hayling

        I usually read AAM on breaks at work and often share articles with coworkers (that have nothing to do with job searching). As someone who is new to hiring I have learned so much from this site!

      2. Kyrielle

        I read AAM on work breaks, but I admit I didn’t click through to this post yesterday when I was in the office! (Today, I’m working from home.)

    2. Jamie

      My biggest fear is someone will put two and two together and realize that all the brilliant management ideas I spout aren’t due to my own inner genius but just daily research and building a career based on WWAD.

      At least I can show I wasn’t trying to pass them off as mine as I bought Alison’s book for work and shove it at new managers.

      Funny story though, once my boss came around my desk to look at something and AAM was up on another screen (imagine that) and the title was something about bosses. Things a boss is doing wrong, ways your boss sucks, how to deal with a horrible boss…I don’t recall the exact post – but he jokingly asked me if it was general research or if I had something I wanted to discuss. I said something to the effect about being ever vigilant so in case he starts slipping I’m prepared…because I think I’m funny…and to his credit he laughed. I’m not a screen minimizer – you come around my desk you have to take me as you find me.

    3. BRR

      I’ve been caught replying a couple of times but my output is high and I have referenced the blog a couple of times when my manager is proud of my actions that I think my boss considers it professional development.

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        Yes, my boss knows I follow/subscribe to a few management blogs and newsletters and thankfully considers it professional development.

    4. Xay

      Yes. Oddly, I was looking for a link to send to my coworker at the time – my job search was already finished.

    5. Elizabeth

      I actually referenced it in my performance evaluation a couple years ago as self-directed education for my desired career path.

    6. Felicia

      I read AAM at work on my lunch breaks (and sometimes when i’m waiting for something so i can continue my work where my boss suggests i surf the net) and I’m not job searching at all . I really like my job and I am not even having problems . i just find everything posted about here very fascinating. And most of it isn’t about job searching –

    7. Lisa

      I have, but only in jest. My boss and I came from the same company. I started coming on here, because of workplace PTSD at that job. My boss gets it. Even tho I am no longer dealing with that stuff, I am now addicted to AAM. Its great getting clarity on situations where you learn ‘what is normal’ vs. ‘your boss is crazy’.

  3. ACA

    On days when I’ve had interviews, I’ve worn a cardigan in the office and changed into my suit jacket on my way to the interview. (Of course, this only works if you have some way to keep your suit jacket out of sight, which isn’t always easy.)

  4. CPE

    Please don’t open/edit your resume on your office desktop. We have a pretty causal office with very small cubicles with no privacy what so ever. I just went to talk to some one and he in turn wanted to open a document on his desktop. So we both looked at his desktop guess what, it was his resume there. He was in editing it. He forgot or didn’t have any time to minimize it. We didn’t talk about it. But I knew he was looking for a new job.

    1. Cath in Canada

      And don’t print a job ad on the office printer and then leave one page behind, as someone in my office did a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know who it was, but based on the text that was left it’s one of two people.

  5. Jamie

    Listen to the advice about not using the network at work to job hunt. I know a lot of places that have certain sites flagged to jump out of usage reports or email keywords. (although I don’t and won’t – still a bad idea because plenty of company’s do.)

    And if you’re stupid enough to disregard that rule don’t name your cover letter and resume doc “cover letter” and “resume” on your desktop when you can’t remember to lock your computer. Because I’ve seen that get someone fired in a past life (and no, I had nothing to do with it.)

    Besides it being a great way of getting caught, it’s just rude. Like when people cheat and do it in the bed they share with their SO. If you want to do that at least have the decency to do it away from the unsuspecting.

  6. Cath in Canada

    One thing I did when I was job searching a few years ago was to tell one trusted colleague what I was up to. The interviewers were very disorganised – they kept calling to ask if I could come in at very short notice to meet one of the 10 people I had to meet before they could make a decision* – and it really helped to have someone covering for me back in the office if anyone started asking too many questions. (It was one of those places where if they found out you were looking, you’d be forced out within six months).

    *why yes, this did turn out to be a red flag! It was still waaaaay better than the job I was leaving though. And when I moved on after five years they knew I was looking and were fine with it, which made things a whole lot easier.

  7. annie

    Two words – McDonalds bathrooms!
    I just went from a jeans office to a suit office, so I spent a lot of time quick changing at MickyDs while interviewing.

  8. Amy

    I’m so glad I don’t have this problem. I work in a place where it’s encouraged to let management know if you’re thinking about leaving and no one is treated any differently if they are. I’d recommend letting your manager know you are job hunting if possible (I know in reality most people arn’t able to do that and there are some terrible managers out there).

    My boss knows I’m job hunting. He told me he doesn’t want me to go but understands I need to in order to further my career so he is helping me out with CV and interview advice and mock interviews. This helpfulness is actually making me want to stay and making it much more difficult to go. My new manager is going to have a high standard to meet.

  9. Lisa

    #7 – Randomly dress up every 2 weeks. After a few ‘got an interview’ questions, and replying with ‘laundry day’ after awhile no one noticed when I dressed up anymore. When I would dress up for an interview, people would assume its my laundry day cause of past dress up questions. If I was repeatedly dressed up in one week, I would get comments like ‘seriously, Lisa do your laundry already”.

    Also – Dress for Dental Success! Just to keep ’em guessing!

  10. Steve

    My peers and I have to keep our search secret, because our employer has a policy that anyone found actively looking for a new job will be considered to have voluntarily resigned their position effective immediately. We work at a publicly traded company with thousands of employees.

  11. Delores

    I am currently unemployed but it looks like I may be getting the job I want. The only thing is the job requires a car and I haven’t driven in 17 years and am afraid to drive. Meanwhile I have two interviews coming up for jobs where you don’t have to drive but I won’t hear about those before the driving one. I can’t really afford to turn down a job, but I don’t know if my credit is good enough to get a car loan. I was going to ask the hiring manager to write me a job offer with my salary and write it was contingent on me having a car so maybe my bank would give me the loan. Any suggestions on what to do in my case?

  12. Sema

    The most difficult job switch is in state government, where everything is public record including applicants’ resumes and all other documents including reference letters. Even if there’s a delay, which is rare, if you are not chosen or decide not to accept, your boss will without a doubt find out.

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